Takeaways from NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16
theScore runs down the top storylines and developments from the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and what it all could mean moving forward.
San Diego State puts clamps on Alabama
The book on beating Alabama certainly isn't a thick one this season - if you lockdown the 3-point line, the top-ranked Crimson Tide can be had. Unfortunately for almost all of the SEC champion's opponents, they couldn't do that this season as Nate Oats' program grabbed the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
The matchup to watch Friday was clear from the start of the Sweet 16 affair. It would be San Diego State's fourth-ranked 3-point defense in the country against the team that launches the most triples per game in Division I. When the dust cleared, Alabama made just 3-of-27 shots from deep - a paltry 11% clip over 40 minutes. That would be too big a mountain to overcome, as the Aztecs sent the Crimson Tide home with an impressive upset.
San Diego State's razor-sharp focus on Alabama star Brandon Miller was evident from the beginning, with the future NBA lottery pick ice-cold throughout the contest. He finished a dismal 3-of-19 from the field and 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. Miller's struggles lasted throughout the entire NCAA Tournament. He became the first player since at least 1960 to make less than 20% of his attempts on at least 40 shots.
The Aztecs aren't just off to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. The trip also marks the Mountain West Conference's first-ever appearance in the regional final.
Miami becomes Elite Eight mainstay
Given the extensive football history at the university, most people don't think of Miami as a basketball school. Jim Larranaga is changing that perception in a big way, as the 73-year-old has the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight for the second straight NCAA Tournament. Top-seeded Houston is the latest victim of the hot-shooting Hurricanes after the Cougars had no answer for Miami's electric offense.
Houston entered the tournament as the second-ranked defense in the country, allowing just 56 points per contest. Miami apparently wasn't aware of that, with the Hurricanes jumping all over Houston from the opening tip. Nijel Pack canned seven triples en route to a 26-point showing as Miami became the first team to top the 80-point mark against the Cougars all season.
After struggling on offense in a narrow opening-round win over Drake, Miami has now hit the 85-point mark in the last two contests while connecting on 20-of-48 triples. If the Hurricanes can keep that number up, don't be shocked to see the ACC program in the Final Four.
Curse of the No. 1 seed
With Alabama and Houston crashing out Friday, zero No. 1 seeds will be in the Elite Eight of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. That marks the first time that situation has occurred since seeding began in 1979. Alabama's loss also marks the ninth straight tournament that the top overall seed didn't win the title.
While Friday was a rough night for the Crimson Tide and Cougars, it was a much more disappointing tourney for Purdue and Kansas. The Boilermakers became the second No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 after a stunning opening-round loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. The Jayhawks blew a 12-point second-half lead in a Round of 32 loss to Arkansas.
Texas establishes itself as tourney favorite
Eight teams remain in the NCAA Tournament, and none are ranked higher than No. 2 Texas. The Longhorns are the only top-two seed to escape from the Sweet 16 following a dominant victory over Xavier on Friday night. One of the main reasons the Big 12 program should be the favorite heading into the weekend is the different manners in which it can win a game in this tourney.
After turning in a historically poor 1-for-13 shooting night from 3-point range against Penn State last round, the Longhorns rebounded with a sizzling 7-for-12 performance from deep Friday. The fact they won both contests shows they're a team that can win in various ways.
The biggest question mark for Texas heading into Sunday's contest with Miami is the health of standout forward Dylan Disu. The senior briefly played Friday before exiting with a foot injury. He was seen on the sidelines in a boot cast during the broadcast. He's averaging 23 points per game in the tournament and would be a huge loss against the Hurricanes.
Creighton too much for Cinderella Princeton
After being placed in the No. 9 slot of the AP preseason poll, big things were expected for Creighton this campaign. However, the Bluejays struggled to live up to those expectations throughout the season, falling to a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament. It's safe to say they're peaking at the right time, as the talented roster is finally realizing its full potential in booking the school's first trip to the Elite Eight in modern NCAA Tournament history.
Creighton certainly received a very favorable draw, as Friday's opponent, Princeton, was just the third No. 15 seed ever to make the Sweet 16. The Bluejays' talent overwhelmed the Tigers in the second half, with Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Scheierman, and Trey Alexander combining for 62 points and 18 rebounds. Add in point guard Ryan Nembhard's nine points and eight assists, and Creighton showed why its offense is one of the best remaining in the tournament.
That sets up an intriguing Elite Eight contest with San Diego State on Sunday. The Aztecs stifled Alabama's high-scoring attack Friday and will be tasked with that challenge against the powerful Bluejays.
Nowell joins NYC elite
New York is known as the mecca of elite point guards. You can officially add Markquis Nowell to that list of players after Thursday's epic performance. The Kansas State star was unstoppable in his return home to Madison Square Garden with an epic 20-point, 19-assist, five-steal stat line in the overtime win over Michigan State. The 19 assists set a new NCAA Tournament record, and he became the first player in any game in 14 years to record those numbers.
While Nowell stole the headlines, the Wildcats' victory was a team effort. Six different Kansas State players scored in double figures, with Keyontae Johnson's 22 points leading the way. The connection between the two Wildcats stars was evident throughout the night, especially on an electric alley-oop deep into overtime.
Nowell is now averaging an outrageous 21.3 points, 14 assists, and 3.6 steals per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Another Gonzaga-UCLA banger in March
Death, taxes, and Gonzaga playing UCLA in an absolute banger in March. There are few guarantees in life, but those two programs facing off in the NCAA Tournament is almost certain to bring drama. You can add Thursday's contest to a list that includes Adam Morrison's heartbreak in 2006 and Jalen Suggs' epic Final Four winner in 2021. A game of runs that saw UCLA hold a massive 13-point advantage at half, only to trail by 10 with 2:30 to play, somehow was decided on a logo triple from Julian Strawther with seven seconds remaining.
Despite being down two starters, UCLA looked outstanding in the opening half against Gonzaga in piling up that double-digit halftime lead. History was in favor of the Bruins, with the school holding a 48-1 record all time in that scenario.
However, history didn't have to deal with Drew Timme. The Gonzaga star absolutely torched the Bruins in a performance for the ages, pouring in 36 points and ripping down 13 rebounds. Timme now has 10 different NCAA Tournament games with at least 20 points, the most by any player all time.
Timme's dominant showing and UCLA's 12-minute stretch without a field goal saw the Bruins' 13-point lead evaporate into a 10-point deficit. However, Mick Cronin's squad somehow kept it close until Amari Bailey's late triple gave the team a one-point lead in the final 30 seconds. Strawther then broke the Bruins' hearts and ensured this one took its rightful place alongside previous matchups between the two programs.
Next up for Gonzaga is another blockbuster matchup with UConn in the Elite Eight on Saturday.
UConn makes massive statement
Of the programs left in March Madness, UConn is the only one to have ever lifted the trophy at the end of the NCAA Tournament. The storied history of the four-time national champions runs deep, which makes Thursday's beatdown of Arkansas even more impressive. The 23-point victory marks the biggest in the program's history for a Sweet 16 game or later in the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies showed no interest in making the contest dramatic, racing out to a massive 17-point first-half lead versus the Razorbacks. UConn's shooters came to play in Las Vegas, connecting on 57% from the field and 45% from deep. When the Huskies weren't making shots, they were dominating their opponents on the glass by a 43-31 margin.
Four players scored in double digits, and a quartet of Huskies registered at least six rebounds in the win. It was arguably the most complete team performance we've seen thus far in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
FAU adds to Barnes' tourney misery
Rick Barnes' struggles in March will continue for another year, this time at the hands of a Florida Atlantic program that was playing in its first-ever Sweet 16 contest. The Tennessee coach has now advanced to the Elite Eight only three times in 27 NCAA Tournament appearances. Thursday's setback will certainly rank high on the list of disappointments.
Tennessee entered as one of the country's top second-half teams but was outscored by 12 in the final frame. FAU's 15-2 run from 12:08 to the 7:30 mark of the second flipped the game from a six-point deficit to a seven-point lead. Barnes finally called a timeout at that point, but the damage had already been done. The Volunteers led the nation in 3-point defense, allowing a paltry 26% from deep, but they were undone by the Owls' 38% shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.
FAU now advances to face the star of the tournament, Nowell and Kansas State, in hopes of trying to book the first Final Four visit for a Conference USA program since 2008.
Big Ten woes continue
The last time a Big Ten school won the NCAA Tournament was Michigan State in 2000. The Spartans put forth an incredible effort Thursday, but their narrow overtime loss to Kansas State ensures that record will last another year. Michigan State's departure means only one Big Ten program has made the Elite Eight in the last three NCAA Tournaments.
With 11 programs in KenPom's top 50, the Big Ten certainly wasn't a slouch this season. However, the conference lacked the top-end programs that could make a serious run in March. The only top-20 team from the conference was Purdue, which went on to become just the second No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16.
One positive note to look forward to for the Big Ten is the upcoming additions of UCLA and USC for the 2024-25 season. The two Los Angeles schools have two trips to the Elite Eight in the last three tournaments alone.
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